Australia Poised for Massive Military Expansion

Growing the military by one-third by 2040 . . .

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Peter Dutton have announced plans to significantly expand the Australian Defence Force (ADF) by about one-third in the coming 20 years. To build capacity to deter and respond to external military and cyber threats, the plan includes an increase of uniformed personnel by about one-third, from about 60,000 to some 80,000 by 2040. The C$35.6-billion expansion would see the ADF grow to its largest size in half a century. While the proposed plan is consistent with the country’s long-term military strategy, updated in 2020, military analysts question whether, given current performance, the ADF will be able to meet its expanded recruitment goals in the coming years.

A home for nuclear submarines . . .

The week has been heavy with military announcements from Canberra. On Monday, Prime Minister Morrison announced that a new submarine base to host the country’s future fleet of nuclear-powered submarines will be built at one of three shortlisted sites on Australia’s east coast. The new base would complement the current home of Australia’s conventional-powered submarine fleet, which is based near Perth, in Western Australia. Curiously, in a defence review conducted a decade ago, none of the three sites that were shortlisted was among the top five identified for hosting an east coast submarine base. The mayors of two of the three locations have expressed apprehension at the prospect of a nuclear submarine base being built in their cities.

Why is Australia militarizing? Why now?

Part of the explanation for this week’s push in military spending announcements is the real and perceived threats to Australia in an increasingly uncertain strategic international context, particularly the geopolitical rise of China and Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine. The announcements thus could reflect a merging of a long-term threat assessment and short-term realities, as identified this week by a senior national intelligence official. Another explanation is that the announcements are part of a pre-election calculus by Prime Minister Morrison. A federal election must be held on or before May 21, and both major parties are in full campaign mode, with security and defence looming as important issues in a close election. Most pundits, however, feel there is little to separate the two major parties on such issues.